Stem cells for arthritis: are we there yet?

Can stem cells treat the different forms of arthritis that plague 100s of millions of people across the globe?

A couple years back I did a post in my disease focus series on the potential of stem cells to be used as treatments for osteoarthritis (OA). OA affects almost 30 million people in the U.S. alone. It leads to loss of cartilage in joints such as the knee, where a person can end up with bone on bone (see image at right).arthritis stem cells

Almost 1% of all people will get the other main form of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, during their lives.

The stem cell field continues to advance and I remain convinced that OA as well as rheumatoid arthritis will in the future be successfully treated using stem cell technology.

There is reason for optimism. For example, there are currently 51 clinical trials listed for the search “arthritis” and “stem cells” on the federal database.

Along with the 38 papers in the Pubmed literature database with “stem cells” and “arthritis” in their titles, this gives realistic reason for hope.

How might stem cells treat OA and/or rheumatoid arthritis?

There are two main possibilities.

First, stem cells could be used to replace lost or diseased cartilage in the joints. In other words, stem cells would regenerate a healthy (or at least healthier) joint through actual tissue growth. This is the most promising hope for treating OA using stem cells.

Second, stem cells might be able to be used to tamp down the overactive immune system and inflammation at least in part responsible for joint destruction, particularly for rheumatoid arthritis. Stem cells appear to have immune modulating functions that act in an anti-inflammatory manner. One particular type of stem cells, mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) seem especially promising in this area.

I know that for-profit stem cell clinics are already selling stem cell treatments, usually involving MSCs, for arthritis, but I say buyer beware at this point. Those treatments are expensive and highly experimental in my opinion. Patients considering such treatments should ask themselves if they want to be human guinea pigs.

 

5 Comments


  1. Glad to see you posting on this topic. I’m very close to having titanium parts installed in my left knee. There is zero cartilage left on the inside of the joint and I can barely walk, can actually hear bone-on-bone grinding in a quiet room. Would love to go the regenerative medicine route, but I’m not in a position to wait a few years more, need help now, shucks. But hope that others will find relief via stem cell injections.


  2. Hey Gizmo, Thanks for the comment and sharing your story. I understand that waiting is just not an option for many people and dubious clinics take advantage of many people in that situation. They just want your money.

    How does one decided on titanium parts vs full joint replacement?


  3. My surgeon (Dr. Fred Fletcher, Albany, NY) likes to leave the patient with as much natural bone structure as possible, so he does a “uni-compartmental” knee procedure, it’s manufactured by Zimmer and you can see it online. Requires only one overnight stay in the hospital.


  4. A very close relative had cells for hips 2x and a local landscaper knee2x with no success except one of them had temporary pain relief so the cells may clean up some inflammation but at what cost? Both had very little cartilege. The relative had side effects but now has resurfaced or artificial hips…his only regret was that that they did not make this choice sooner.


  5. It should be pointed out that there are some legitimate companies working through the appropriate regulatory pathways to test cell products for arthritis.

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